Farmers to withhold produce supply if demand for more workers not met

Israel Farmers Federation threatens to retain illegal Thai workers.

foreign thai workers 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
foreign thai workers 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Israel Farmers Federation says it will disrupt the flow of Israeli produce to the markets unless the government approves the import of new Thai workers for labor in the agriculture sector. The IFF held an emergency meeting on Thursday calling for a series of escalating protest measures that they threaten to take until the government caves in. Their first move is to ask the existing Thai workers to remain in Israel illegally after their current permits expire. "The government leaves us no choice but to break the law since all the agreements we've reached with them on labor issues have been broken," said Chaim Chadad, the head of the foreign workers department in the IFF. In a statement to the press, the IFF claimed that since the beginning of the year, 4,000 workers left the country after their work permits expired. According to the statement, an agreement was reached with Interior Minister Eli Yishai that new permits would be issued, but these have been delayed, causing heavy damages to farmers. In the meeting, the farmers decided to take measures to pressure the government into action, including blocking roads with trucks full of produce and raising fruit and vegetable prices by stopping the flow of fresh produce to the markets. "We believe that a large percentage of the Thai workers we ask to stay will respond favorably to our invitation, but of course we won't force anyone to stay against their will," said Chadad. The IFF reported that they have hired surveyors to estimate the costs of the damages the farmers are suffering as a result of the shortage of workers, which they say may reach hundreds of millions of shekels. They plan to use the surveyor's reports as a basis for a future lawsuit against the government for breach of agreement. IFF chairman Avshalom Vilan sent an urgent letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking him to personally intervene. No response has yet been given by the Prime Minister's Office. When asked for a response, Yossi Edelstein, the official in charge of foreign workers in the Interior Ministry, said he was unfamiliar with the farmers' complaints and could not comment on the issue before studying it more thoroughly.